- By Lou Ann Kibbee, Systems Advocacy Manager at Southeast Kansas Independent Living (SKIL) Resource Center
"Your vote affects everything. It can make a difference in poverty rates and it can help eliminate discriminating practices. Who you vote for impacts your access to healthcare, education, transportation, and the list goes on. We need your vote!" quote from the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) website.
Many people do not think their vote matters, but the statement above is so true. Every vote does count! Yes, the President and Vice President are elected by the Electoral College process, which is a whole other article. But our members of Congress working for us in DC, our Governor, and the State Cabinet, the KS State Legislators in the House and Senate working in Topeka, as well as our local County and City officials are all elected by the popular vote. This means that my vote and your vote absolutely count. Not only do our votes count but they can make a huge difference in who gets elected. There have been some very close election results that I have especially noticed in the last twelve years or so. I have seen results for the Governor and State House and Senate seats end up very close to where they have to do recounts, sometimes the recount is so close that it is challenged by the losing candidate. This tells me that every single vote not only counts, but can be critical for change.
Advocates in the disability community have worked hard to educate people with disabilities and our families about our right to vote and how we can make changes to improve our lives by doing so. Elected officials at the Federal, State, and Local levels affect our lives. They are elected into their positions to work for their constituents, the people they are supposed to represent and make decisions that will affect us. "Us" means all of us! Whether we have a disability or not! The decisions the elected officials make are vital in the survival of people with disabilities. They are making decisions around healthcare, attendant care services, housing, transportation, education, employment, food assistance, accessibility laws and other civil rights laws, funding for organizations that provide supports and resources, etc. These are all issues that affect people with disabilities. Every person with a disability is affected by at least one of these issues in their life. And as we age and our health problems increase, more of these decisions they make on these topics will apply to us.
So how do we make sure that the elected officials make the right decisions?? First, we get registered to vote or check if you need to update your registration because of a change of name or address. Your IL Coordinator at SKIL can help you with this as well as registering to vote for the first time. The second thing we do is get informed about the candidates' positions on issues that are important to you, including where they stand on the list of those issues mentioned earlier. What are their positions on issues that affect people with disabilities? Do they support attendant care services? Do they support programs in our community that we get services and supports from? What do they think about providing accessible transportation in your area? You can get this information from numerous places such as TV, newspapers, websites, public candidate forums, and SKIL shares any information we can. The third thing to do is actually vote! You can do this by going to the polling site (which SKIL can help you figure out) or you can do an Advance ballot where you go to a location for early voting or you can have the ballot mailed to you and you return it to the County Clerk office. If you want to do the Advance ballot in person or by mail, you have to complete a form which your SKIL IL Coordinator can help with.
None of the processes for registering and voting is difficult to do. SKIL staff can give you as much support through the process as you need, short of telling you who to vote for. If you do not vote, you are putting your services and supports, actually your life in other people's hands. Other people are electing the Federal, State, and local officials who will decide whether you get healthcare, attendant care, affordable accessible housing, food assistance, etc. Some of these other people who are electing the officials do not have the same priorities as you. They don't care about your attendant services, food assistance, or housing assistance. So the only way for us to influence and advocate for the services and supports we need to live in the community, is to elect officials that we believe are going to support these services and supports for people with disabilities when Congress or the State Legislature votes on them. If you are not registered or are not sure, please contact your SKIL IL Coordinator who can help you. Your vote, along with your family and friends votes, can make a huge difference in your life. This last State legislative session we were able to get them to support the increase of the Protected Income Level. This increase meant anyone receiving HCBS would not have to pay a Client Obligation unless their income is over $1,177 a month. We hope to get this increased even higher in the next legislative session starting in January. But if we do not have the right State legislators in office that will work for us, this will never happen. This is only one example of where we need your help! Please get registered, get informed, and vote!! Contact SKIL Staff to help you.